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ONIONS

NCAA Tournament | Message Board  | Onions Archive

By Adam Glatczak

arfboy37@yahoo.com

March 12th, 2006

 

NCAA Tournament: What Was the Committee Thinking?

 

-Don't forget to also check out Part Two: Breaking Down the Brackets

 

-Absolutely floored. That’s about the only way this person could describe his feelings when watching the revealing of the brackets for the NCAA Tournament.

 

The feeling set in pretty quickly, as soon as we saw that California was grossly overrated with a 7 seed, while a Southern Illinois team with an equal or better season than the Golden Bears was an 11 seed. And it didn’t go away, only getting worse as we watched the Missouri Valley get rear-ended, conferences like the Pac-10 get extra credit apparently for UCLA’s titles in the Wooden era or something, and a team with one top 100 win all season (Montana) get a seed that suggests they would’ve been an at-large selection had they not won their conference tourney.

 

Somewhere we must have missed the announcement or amendment to policy that the criteria for getting into the NCAAs would be changed this year. That’s exactly what the committee did this year, and it’s an embarrassment to the selection process and to college basketball as a whole. The committee flat-out changed the rules in the middle of the game, and is doing it with a straight face when its members should be wearing bags over their heads. It put up the target, then moved it just as schools took a shot at it, and did it all without shame.

 

What stinks about this year’s committee isn’t that it missed on a ton of teams. Of the final at-larges, they made the right choice with George Mason, made the likely (if debatable) choices of Texas A&M and Alabama, and at least did put Bradley in, albeit barely. Missouri State, Creighton and maybe Cincinnati should’ve been in, while Air Force, Texas A&M and Seton Hall should’ve been out, most likely Utah State, too. Aside from this, though, the logic they applied in putting together this bracket was more flawed and inconsistent than almost any reasonable person could have imagined. The committee zigged here, zagged there, and left a torn up trail of what we thought were some of the criteria to getting into the field.

 

Apparently all that stuff about playing people out of conference or playing on the road? Yeah, you can now forget about that. Sometimes. While Florida State was rightly kept out of the field and Hofstra justifiably so both because of poor non-conference schedules, those schools still have a major beef. Texas A&M played the #240 non-conference schedule in the country, and Air Force’s was worse than that. Utah State’s wasn’t as bad, but the Aggies didn’t really play any more people OOC than two years ago when they got left out with a 25-3 record. Yet all three got in, the first two not only with schedule similar to FSU and Hofstra, but also over teams like Missouri State and Creighton, teams that played much tougher non-league schedules AND had much better all-around seasons. What did Texas A&M and Air Force do that Florida State didn’t? Good question, and one that has very few good answers.

 

Quality wins no longer matter either, nor do bad losses. Texas A&M and Utah State have one top 50 win each all season, but at least that’s one more than Air Force. Both Aggies (Texas A&M and Utah State) built their entire seasons around winning one game (A&M over Texas, Utah State at Nevada) while Air Force’s best win was…San Diego State? Just for comparison, Creighton and Missouri State on their own both had more top 50 wins than those three teams combined. Meanwhile, five MVC teams had seasons very similar to Indiana, yet the Hoosiers got a 6 seed and four of those five Valley squads got double-digit seeds or were left out completely. The MVC teams’ seeds weren’t a huge problem except for Bradley, but to infer that Indiana is one of the best 24 teams in the country or is five seed lines better than Southern Illinois may be the biggest joke yet in a field with a whole bunch of laughers.

 

Bad losses also only hurt you if you’re a member of the Missouri Valley Conference. Southern Illinois and Bradley were both pretty clearly docked for losing a handful of games each to teams ranked below 100, because that’s the only reason to justify them being seeded where they are. That’s fine if it’s applied consistently. However, if you’re California, you can lose just as many such games as either of those teams, play a weaker schedule AND still get a 7 seed out of it. Nice. And Montana can get seeded higher than Bradley even though the Grizzlies lost to-get ready now: Portland State, Boise State, Weber State, Northern Arizona and Idaho State. Like the three at-large teams mentioned in the previous paragraph, the Griz also have a dearth of quality wins-just one against the top 100!!!

 

Taking injuries or eligibility issues into consideration also is now out, at least for some teams. Teams like George Washington and Creighton, one of which got shafted in its seed, the other had the insult of being told its season was worse than Air Force (again, zero top 50 wins this year, or six less than the Bluejays). However, if your name is California or San Diego State, then players missing games can apparently help you. That has to be the only explanation for the Golden Bears getting a 7 seed despite losing at Eastern Michigan and to Arizona State and Oregon State at home and having a whopping 3-5 record vs. top 50 teams. It also must be how the Aztecs can lose to Illinois-Chicago, San Diego, Washington State and Utah and beat exactly one top 50 team, yet get seeded ahead of a Bradley with similar losses except only about six more quality wins.

 

So what exactly was the committee looking for this year? Who knows? It’s pretty clear that, unlike what we’ve been told forever, conference does indeed matter. If SEC teams had the seasons that the top six MVC teams had this year, there would’ve been no question of their NCAA credentials. But when a league like the Valley came out of nowhere and surprised everyone, the committee soiled itself not knowing what to do. In the end, they did exactly what they said they don’t do, they counted down (low seeds for Southern Illinois, Bradley) or out (Missouri State, Creighton) the Valley teams because they were Valley teams. It would’ve embarrassed a number of big football conferences to see more teams in the field from this Midwestern so-called ‘mid-major’ than from the mighty Pac-10, ACC or Big 12. So, the committee made sure to treat the MVC with a little respect by at least giving it four bids but generally looking at its season as less than impressive. They can back it up by pulling out the ridiculously bogus reasoning that MVC teams allegedly artificially stack up their RPIs to make those statistics meaningless. Then they run into a hole.

 

It’s also pretty clear they decided they were going to ditch statistics, which again is a huge, huge, HUGE problem. The field has been selected a certain way based on a certain criteria for years. It was NOT this committee’s place to change the rules now, in the middle of it all, without giving schools notice of this. This is by far the most frustrating part of what the committee did. If they want to ignore the numbers that they’ve used for 25 years, that’s fine, but then that decision better be clarified before a season, not during the season and not by sending a message in the selections. The committee’s job isn’t to send messages, it’s to follow a criteria in picking the best at-large teams for the tournament.

 

The bottom line is that Texas A&M, Utah State and Air Force received gifts. The worst news is there is  virtually nothing that the schools that narrowly missed the tournament this year can take from these selections. Why play a tough schedule when Texas A&M and Air Force didn’t? Why play road games out of conference, as MVC schools have, when there’s no reward for it? And why even have an RPI, strength of schedule rankings or even quality wins when it isn’t going to matter anyway. The committee is going to pick who they want, regardless of how much teams have really accomplished over a season.

 

If the committee is going to do this in the future, then the selection committee needs to be made up of nothing but basketball people, people who watch games all season and people who can abide by a set criteria. It should not be made up of people with full-time jobs who do this on the side and apparently have no regard for getting in the teams that have proven the most, just the ones that they think they like the most.

 

The rules are now that there aren’t any rules. Put quite simply, this committee should be embarrassed. After the fine job done the past few years by Bob Bowlsby, Jim Livengood and the members on those committees, this group has tarnished the legacy left by them by deciding to wander off on its own and make up its own rules. In doing so, it has severely damaged the integrity of the selection process.

 

-It’s pretty obvious UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero must have taken care of his fellow Pac-10 schools, and good. That’s the only explanation for how well the Pac-10 did overall. How this conference-which, by any and every measure, was worse than the Missouri Valley this year and did no more out of conference than that league-got its teams seeded 2, 5, 7 and 8 is worthy of an NCAA infractions committee investigation alone. (In comparison, MVC teams with very comparable or better profiles than at least Arizona, Cal and Washington were seeded 7, 10, 11 and 13.) Anyone who thinks California was one of the top 28 teams in the country this year needs to kick whatever habit they have. Washington never left its home state until mid-January, but again, in this case there was no punishment for playing a non-league slate full of kibbles and bits. UCLA deserved a high seed, but not that high, and at least Arizona is close to where it should be. Pac-10 schools got off very, very lucky, to put it mildly, and for the most part there is no justification at all as to why.

 

-Along with Cal, anyone, anywhere want to tell us how Indiana received the seed it did? Anyone? You could take the best portions of these teams’ past TWO seasons together, combine them, and it still wouldn’t be worthy of a 6 or 7 seed.

 

-The influence Guerrero apparently had on this committee stretches to Montana. Now, the Grizzlies are a nice team and played very well in the Big Sky final. A 12 seed for them, though, is unfathomably generous. This is a team with one top 100 win this year, against a mediocre Stanford team, granted, in impressive fashion. They lost a close one to Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and the rest of their season was played against the 186th-ranked schedule in D-I. In fact, the Griz played just nine teams ranked even in the RPI top 150, and their non-conference schedule was in Texas A&M land. The Grizzlies were closer to a 15 seed than a 12, and while it’s nice to see a program like Montana benefit from these things for once, the bottom line is they got a gift. Apparently, though, beating one average Pac-10 team was worth gold in this committee’s eyes…makes one wonder if Stanford and USC were some of the last teams out, or if Portland was on the at-large board, since the Pilots beat both Oregon and Oregon State this year.

 

-The committee should be commended for leaving out schools like Michigan, Florida State and Cincinnati, especially a Cincy team that many thought was a lock but was only 4-8 vs. the top 50 and finished poorly. Neither the Wolverines nor Bearcats finished the season strong, while the Seminoles only had one good win all season and played an atrocious non-conference schedule. Also seeing how far a team like N.C. State slipped, it is pretty clear that if you didn’t finish strong, you were hurt by it. Unless you were Tennessee, which lost four of its last six yet still grabbed a two seed.

 

-Florida State fans absolutely have every right to ask why Texas A&M got in and they didn’t. And Cincinnati fans have to be wondering how a team they would likely mop the floor with-California-can be a 7 seed while they can’t even get into the field. Really funny that committee chair Craig Littlepage can come on TV with a straight face and pointedly talk about ‘majors’ needing to schedule tougher out of conference, then give Texas A&M and Air Force bids. What he’s saying and what the committee did were two different things, though pretty much par for the course for this group.

 

-Maybe the committee just spent its time in the hotel in Indianapolis watching ESPN commentators talk all day, because their selections were about as misinformed as a number of the talkers for the Worldwide Leader in Sports. We were hoping this year’s field would show just how little it means when the TV analysts get involved in discussing who should be in and out. While we don’t question these gents’ knowledge of the game or the way they can break down game tape, we thought they needed to become more informed of the selection process or else step aside for some who are. The poorly constructed opinions of so many of them were based on stereotypes, biases and general misinformation that made many of them look no more informed about the selection process than the casual fan who still can’t pronounce ‘Gonzaga.’ But then the committee put together a bracket that looks like it was constructed by Digger Phelps and Billy Packer and made guys like them look like geniuses. Maybe that is the biggest insult that can be hurled at this committee; they have made a whole host of uniformed people look like experts.

 

-Many think Cincinnati should’ve been in and Missouri State most certainly has a case over a team like Utah State, but Creighton was flat-out screwed. How in the world can anyone say with any sane mind that a team with zero top 50 wins is better than one with six such wins? Did these committee members watch one basketball game all year? I’ve seen both Creighton and Air Force play numerous times this year; they are no more than equal, the Bluejays are almost certainly better, but even in a tiebreaker the numbers should’ve played in and favored CU over the Falcons. In fact, while we have nothing against Air Force and actually thoroughly enjoy watching them play, their inclusion into this field rivals Georgia’s selection in 2001 as the worst at-large selection ever. Utah State’s is not much better, and while we think they were good enough to get an at-large spot and also are big fans of them, it’s impossible to say that the Aggies had a better season than Missouri State.

 

-Glad to see Memphis did get the #1 seed it deserved for playing anyone and everyone out of conference. The Tigers may not go far with that seed-they’re very beatable if a team can slow them down-but they at least were one team that absolutely got what it deserved. Also pleased that Nevada and Wichita State were seeded properly and that the committee did punish slightly the seeds of some with poor non-conference schedules (ex. Boston College, Pittsburgh). That most enigmatic quality of this committee is that they nailed a lot of the seeds. N.C. State, Syracuse, Georgetown, Boston College…all of these teams are right about where they should be. In fact, most seeds are right on. However, when they missed, they missed bad, completely meandering off of whatever blueprint they used in making these picks.

 

-George Washington also was absolutely ripped off. Another team that paid for its non-conference schedule heavily, the Colonials are also another team that has to wonder why a team like Texas A&M or Air Force didn’t pay similarly. Punishing them for their non-league schedule was fair, but then it should’ve affected those two teams, too. If the committee was supposedly looking at teams ‘qualitatively’ and ignoring statistics, then the Colonials needed to be at least a 6 seed, most likely a 4 or 5. To imply that California, Oklahoma or Indiana are better teams or had better seasons than GW is just ridiculous. However, GW has a golden opportunity to beat Duke if it can get by UNC-Wilmington in the first round. The Seahawks will not be an easy matchup; their discipline and defense will likely drive GW crazy, forcing the Colonials to learn how to win a grinder if they want to advance.

 

-Unlike the Missouri Valley, the Colonial Athletic Association has little it can argue with in the selections. UNC-Wilmington got a great seed, and George Mason got in right about where it should have. Not a surprise given that the Patriots’ athletic director was on the committee. While we would have loved to see Hofstra in, their non-conference schedule put them in peril, and particularly with other teams with bad non-conference schedules being left out. Really, the committee had no choice but to treat the Pride just like it treated Florida State. But once again, why wasn’t Texas A&M treated the same way?

 

-Hofstra can, however, join in with Creighton and put some blame on the Bracket Buster for its exclusion. Participating in the massive event that is supposed to help schools like it, the Pride instead played Siena, a team well below 100 in the RPI, while Creighton played Fresno State, another team in the 100s. Situations like this prove the Bracket Buster to be next to worthless for most teams, and while it works for a few teams every year, it’s time the event was re-evaluated to ensure that, somehow, the best teams in it are playing the other best teams on a consistent basis. Obviously there is some necessity to planning home and away teams before the season, and it would be extremely difficult to change in-season who plays where. Maybe the solution is playing games at neutral sites, possibly neutral site doubleheaders. Whatever it is, something has to be done, because the event failed Hofstra and Creighton this year. Must be pretty tough for both schools to think, too, that if the BB was organized with a little more thought, they could’ve played each other and helped both teams’ cases for the NCAAs. Or, maybe they’re just thinking the other thought we have, which is that it wouldn’t have mattered and that both would’ve been left out regardless of doing anything short of traveling to Texas (or California) and winning.

 

Continue to Part Two: Breaking Down the Brackets

 

Previous Editions of the Postseason Journal: March 12 (morning), March 11, March 10, March 8, March 6, March 4

 

 

 

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